Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Valentin Silvestrov - Requiem: Personal and Universal

There has been an unexpected consequence of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It sparked an interest in Ukrainian classical music in the West. And the West is discovering an incredibly rich and unique treasure trove of music. 

Valentin Silvestrov is a major force in Ukrainian classical music. He often incorporates Ukrainian folk elements into his music. Though he seldom quotes it. Rather, characteristic melodic turns, rhythms, and harmonies have become parts of Silvestrov's style.

Silvestrov composed The Requiem for Larissa for his late wife. The work served as therapy. It helped Silvestrov process her sudden and unexpected death in 1996. 

This is a personal work. And yet the emotions it expresses are universal to all who have suffered a similar loss. 

The piece uses the text of the Latin requiem mass. The musical form, though, is completely different. The Requiem has seven movements. But the music flows in a stream of consciousness from one idea to the next. 

Some of those ideas are original, and others are snippets from the couple's past. There are Mozart pastiches and quotes from earlier Silvestrov works. Deeply personal, and yet truly universal. 

This recording is from a live performance in Munich in June 2011. It's extraordinary. The Requiem requires five vocal soloists, plus a choir. The orchestra is enhanced by a synthesizer. The settings on this instrument give the ensemble an unearthly sound. Not artificial or electronic, but rather ethereal and elusive.

The Requiem places heavy demands on all the performers. The work lasts almost an hour, and every note needs to be delivered with delicacy and finesse. These performers deliver. The sound is luminous.

This is a masterwork.  

Valentin Silvestrov: Requiem for Larissa
Priska Eser, soprano; Jutta Neumann, alto; Andreas Hirtreiter, tenor; Wolfgang Klose, Michael Mantaj, bass
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks; Münchner Rundfunkorchester; Andres Mustonen, conductor
BR Klassik 90344

Friday, January 27, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #Classical1923 Week 4

New year, new month, new theme. The Classics a Day team decided to look back 100 years. For the month of January, the challenge is to post classical works associated with 1923. They can be pieces composed in that year, premiered in that year, or received their first recording in that year. 

1923 was a pivotal year in classical music. As I soon discovered when I began my research. Here are my posts for the fourth and final week of #Classical1923.

01/23/23 Sergei Prokofiev: Piano Sonata No. 5 in C major (original version), Op. 38

Prokofeiv wrote the original version of this sonata on vacation in 1923. He revisitied the work in 1952, and revised it. This second version was published as his Op. 135.

01/24/23 Paul Hindemith: Klaviermusik mit Orchestra, Op. 29

Hindemith wrote this concerto for piano left-hand in 1923. It was commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein, who never performed it. Only after his widow's death was the score made available, and it was premiered in 2004.

01/25/23 William Walton: Toccata for Violin and Piano

Walton was just 20 when he composed the Toccata in 1923. Walton was influenced by Schoenberg, Bartok, and Sorabji. Leter he developed his own style, which was more tonal. He then withdrew the Toccata.

01/26/23 Darius Milhaud: La Création du monde, Op. 81a

This 1923 ballet is based on African folk mythology. Milhaud had recently discovered jazz and used it as the basis for his score. Leonard Bernstein called it, “a real love affair with jazz.”

01/27/23 Béla Bartók: Dance Suite

Bartók wrote the work to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Buda and Pest becoming one city. The six-movement work, premiered in 1923, uses Hungarain, Wallachian, and Arabic folk melodies. All the themes blend together in the final movment, symbolising the creation of Budapest.

Next month:

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Peter Friis Johansson Plays Concertos with Personal Connections

Pianist Peter Friis Johansson presents an impressive program of Swedish piano concertos. All three have a direct relationship to the artist. The earliest is by pioneering female composer Laura Netzel. The other two come from the 2010s, but are very different in style. 

Laura Netzel was a composer and pianist active in Sweden at the end of the 19th Century. Her only piano concerto was never published. It was lost for a while, but when found, it laked the end of the third movement. Johansson completed the concerto. And he premiered the work in 2020 with the Royal Stockholm Orchestra.

This recording pairs him with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. And it's spectacular. Netzel's big melodic gestures rival Edvard Grieg's. And though some sections have heroic grandeur, others evoke quiet contemplation. Johansson makes it all work. His performance is both enthusiastic and engaging.

Johansson commissioned Sven-David Sandström for a concerto. The result was "Five Pieces for Piano and Orchestra." Sandström deconstructs the concept of the concerto. At times the piano and orchestra seem to be playing two different works. They seem to constantly interrupt each other in the process.

Andrea Tarrodi responded differently to Johansson's commission. "Stellar Clouds (Piano Concerto No. 1) uses the piano and orchestra as a single entity. As the title suggests, clouds of sound swirl about, gradually changing and evolving.

In some sense, Johannson owns these works. Two were composed for him, and one he completed himself. His playing is flawless. And his expressiveness and phrasing vary with each work to match its style. And it's the right choice every time. 

A phenomenal collection of music that gives full reign to the artist behind them.

Netzel, Sandström & Tarrodi – Piano Concertos
Peter Friis Johansson, piano
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra; Ryan Bancroft, conductor
BIS-2576 SACD 

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Tālivaldis Ķeniņš: Symphonies Nos. 5 & 8 End of the Journey

This is the third installment of Ondine's Ķeniņš symphonic cycle. In terms of content, it might just be the best. Latvian composer Tālivaldis Ķeniņš wrote eight symphonies over the space of 17 years. With each symphony, Ķeniņš expanded his scope and refined his style.

This release features his last symphony, written in 1986. Subtitled "Sinfonia concertata," it's a work for organ and orchestra. Ķeniņš masterfully blends the solo instrument and the ensemble -- no mean feat. The organ has a very distinctive sound. But Ķeniņš carefully matches timbres, making it part of the orchestra. 

Iveta Apkalna is the organist in this recording. She brings an extraordinary level of musicianship to this work. Ķeniņš considered this his most metaphysical expression, and Apkalna delivers.

Also included is Symphony No. 5. This 1976 work is a concise expression of Ķeniņš's aesthetic. Ķeniņš studied with Messian. He wanted to reconcile his innate romanticism with the neoclassicism of his French training. In his fifth symphony, these two elements seem to strike a balance. The work has the clear-cut organization of neoclassicism. But the harmonies and fluid melodies are inspired by Romanticism.

The Latvian National Symphony Orchestra is directed by Andris Poga. The orchestra has recorded three other Ķeniņš symphonies for Ondine. They are quite familiar with the style of their countryman. And it shows in their authoritative and sensitive performances. 

If you're not familiar with Ķeniņš's work, I recommend starting here. Symphony No. 8 was the goal. Then pick up the Ondine recording of his first symphony. Because that's where the journey started.

Tālivaldis Ķeniņš: Symphonies Nos. 5 & 8
Iveta Apkalna, organ
Latvian National Symphony Orchestra; Adris Poga, conductor
Ondine 1388-2

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Johann Joachim Quantz Trio Sonatas Show Versatility

Johann Joachim Quantz is best remembered for his flute concertos. After all, he wrote over 300 of them for his employer, Frederick the Great. Quantz's job was keeping Frederick, an enthusiastic amateur flutist, supplied with music. But he wrote in other forms, too 

This release presents six of his trio sonatas. What exactly a trio sonata was depended on the players. Composers wrote these works for two treble clef instruments plus basso continuo. 

The lead instruments could be violins, transverse flutes, oboes, or recorders. Or any pairing of them. The basso continuo could be as simple as a cello outlining the bass. Or it could have a keyboard or fretted stringed instrument to fill out the harmony. 

The Ensemble Labrinto Armonico has chosen an appealing blend of instruments. The melodic lines are played with a recorder and baroque violin. The recorder takes the first part. 

The basso continuo features a baroque cello. Both harpsichord and archlute provide the underlying harmonies. Good choices.

The sound is richly layered. Nicely filled-out harmonies support the melodies. And the difference in timbre between the recorder and violin enhances the contrast. It's easy to hear the clever interplay Quantz writes for the two solo instruments. 

Well-recorded and well-performed.

Johann Joachim Quantz: Trio Sonatas
Ensemble Labirinto Armonico
Dynamic CDS7957

Friday, January 20, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #Classical1923 Week 3

New year, new month, new theme. The Classics a Day team decided to look back 100 years. For the month of January, the challenge is to post classical works associated with 1923. They can be pieces composed in that year, premiered in that year, or received their first recording in that year. 

1923 was a pivotal year in classical music. As I soon discovered when I began my research. Here are my posts for the third week of #Classical1923.

01/16/23 Jean Sibelius: Symphony No. 6

Sibelius began work on this symphony in 1914. He composed it concurrently with his fifth and seventh symphonies. The Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by the composer, premiered the work on 19 February 1923.

01/17/23 Leó Weiner: Concertino for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 15

This concerto premiered in 1923. Weiner spent most of his career as a professor of composition at the Budapest Academy of Music. His students include Georg Solti, Janos Starker, and Anatol Dorati.

01/18/23 Edgard Varèse: Hyperprism

This premiered at an International Composers' Guild concert in 1923. It was not well-received. "It remained for Varese to cause peaceful lovers of music to scream out their agony..."

1/19/23 Heitor Villa-Lobos: Nonet ("Impressão rápida de todo o Brasil")

Villa-Lobos started writing the Nonet in January 1923 and finished it 9 months later. It's one of the earliest works where Villa-Lobos uses Brazilian folk music.

01/20/23 Gabriel Fauré: Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 120

Fauré wrote the trio at the urging of his publisher. He started it in 1920, and it was completed in February 1923. It was premiered in May 1923 and published later that same year.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Alexander Markov Excels with Vieuxtemps Violin Works

Henri Vieuxtemps was one of the best -- and most influential -- violin virtuosos of the mid-19th Century. His playing even impressed Paganini. Not surprisingly, most of Vieuxtemps' compositions are for the violin. And most popular is his violin concertos. 

This release presents some of his shorter works for violin and orchestra. The variety is refreshing -- as is the playing. Vieuxtemps may have been a ferocious player, but he wasn't a showboater. For Vieuxtemps, the technique was always in service to the melody. 

Alexander Markov has that same approach. The technique is there, but he doesn't call attention to it. Rather, Markov plays with a clear, singing tone. Double stops are carefully voiced. Lightning-fast runs outline melodic arcs. Extremely high notes aren't there for show -- they're the logical destination of the phrase. 

The works chosen showcase both Vieuxtemps as violinist and composer. The two sets of variations demonstrate his musical imagination. As the variations develop, he doesn't just pile on runs. (Although there are plenty of them.) Rather, the melodies are transformed and reharmonized. These explorations provide fascinating insights into the original material.

When Vieuxtemps died in 1881, he left his eighth violin concerto unfinished. Only the first movement was completed, and even that was in short score. This release presents a realization of that movement, orchestrated by Christoph Baumgarten. Markov himself provides the cadence.

It's a tantalizing glimpse at what might have been. Vieuxtemps experimented with the concerto form. This torso suggests Vieuxtemps was moving towards something new.

Henri Vieuxtemps: Fantasie in E major ‘La Sentimentale’
Variations on a Theme from Bellini’s Norma; Violin Concerto No. 8 (unfinished); Variations on a Theme from Beethoven’s Romance No. 1
Alexander Markov, Violin
Thüringen Philharmonie Gotha-Eisenach: Markus Huber, conductor

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Rune Most, Brings Sensitivity to CPE Bach Concertos

Carl Philipp Emanuel (CPE) Bach was a court musician from Frederick the Great. Frederick was an enthusiastic amateur flutist. But the three concertos on this release weren't written for him. 

CPE Bach was employed as a harpsichordist. Frederick got his concertos from others -- like Johann Jacob Quantz, who wrote 300 for the monarch.

Bach composed these three concertos for other musicians playing other instruments. The Flute Concerto in A minor, WQ 166, for example, was first a cello concerto. The G major concerto, WQ 169, was first an organ concerto. 

Bach's Concerto in D minor, WQ 22, was originally conceived as a flute concerto. But later on, Bach would transform it into an organ concerto.

Because of the interchangeability of solo instruments, these concertos don't test the boundaries of the player. Rune Most never has to hit extreme highs or lows. But he is required to shape the music to bring out its beauty. 

Bach wrote in the empfindsamer Stil, a reaction to the high Baroque. Fussy ornamentation was replaced with simple melodies and clean, smooth phrasing.

Most plays with a rich, smooth tone that adds to the warmth of the melodies. The Danish Sinfonietta directed by David Riddell provides ideal support. Their ensemble sound is light and transparent. And of course, the recorded sound is impeccable. Just what I expect in a Bridge Records release.  

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: Flute Concertos
Rune Most, flute
The Danish Sinfonietta; David Riddell, conductor
Bridge Records 9565

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Kleinknecht Trio Sonatas Epitomize Style Galant

Jacob Friedrich Kleinknecht was a transverse flute virtuoso and a practical one. He also picked up the violin to make himself more employable, and it worked. He joined Princess Wihelmine's court at Bayreuth. 

Wilhelmine was an amateur composer herself. Kleinknecht thrived. He was hired in 1748 as assistant Kapellmeister. Three years later, he was the court composer and eventually was made Kapellmeister.

This release collects six of his trio sonatas for two flutes. All received their world premiere recordings with this release.

Kleinknecht wrote in the style galant that bridged the Baroque and Classical eras. His melodies are simple and straightforward. Ornamentation is kept to a minimum. 

What makes these works interesting is his handling of the solo instruments. Kleinknecht fully explores the potential of the transverse flute. And he does so deceptively. The music sounds simple and easy to play, but to do it well requires a good deal of skill. 

He's also adept at writing for two instruments with the same sound. There's a lot of contrast between the two flutes. And even when they're playing together, it's often in harmony rather than unison. 

The Ensemble La Contonnade performs with warmth and sensitivity. Their relaxed interpretations seem spot on. This was music for an evening's entertainment. And entertain it does. 

But it was also written for a patron who knew her stuff. And that means these works had to have some substance to them. Which they do.

Thoroughly enjoyable.  

Jacob Friedrich Kleinknecht: Trio Sonatas for Two Flutes and Basso Continuo
Ensemble La Cantonnade
TYXart TXA19126

Friday, January 13, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #Classical1923 Week 2

New year, new month, new theme. The Classics a Day team decided to look back 100 years. For the month of January, the challenge is to post classical works associated with 1923. They can be pieces composed in that year, premiered in that year, or received their first recording in that year. 

1923 was a pivotal year in classical music. As I soon discovered when I began my research. Here are my posts for the second week of #Classical1923.

01/09/23 Josef Matthias Hauer: Atonale Musik, Op.20

Hauer, independently from Schoenberg, developed a theory of 12-tone composition. He composed Atonale Musik, a collection of 13 pieces, between 1920 and 1922. It premiered in 1923.

01/10/23 Arnold Schoenberg: Fünf Klavierstücke Op. 23

Schoenberg began work on this ground-breaking piece in 1920. It was completed in 1923.

01/11/23 Alexander von Zemlinsky: Lyric Symphony, Op. 18

Zemlinsky considered this 1923 composition his Das Lied von der Erde. Alban Berg quoted from it in his own Lyric Suite.

01/12/23 Ferruccio Busoni: Prélude et étude en arpèges, BV 297

Busoni worote this work in 1923, near the end of a long and productive life. In many ways, it sums up his style as a pianist.

01/13/23 Sigfrid Karg-Elert: Cathedral Windows, Op.106

Sigfrid Karg-Elert's first instrument was the piano. By 1910, he had transitioned to the organ. His most popular works -- including this one -- were written for the organ.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Josef Labor Chamber Music Release Includes Wittgenstein Commissions

Josef Labor was an influential piano teacher in the early 20th Century.  He was also a highly sought-after composer. 

One of his pupils was Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm in the First World War. Labor was one of the first composers Wittgenstein turned to for music. Labor wrote several works on commission for the piano left hand. 

Paul's brother Ludwig was a clarinetist. The two clarinet trios on this release feature piano left hand. Labor wrote them for the brothers to perform together. 

Also included are two quintets featuring the clarinet. The Quintet for Clarinet, Violin, Viola, Cello, and Piano in D major, Op. 11 was written in 1911. Labor was a friend of Brahms, and this work has a distinctively Brahsmian feel. 

The Quintet for Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Horn, and Piano in D major has a very different character. Here Labor seems to adopt a more transparent texture throughout. The melodies are gorgeous throughout. And each wind instrument is given a chance to shine. 

Labor didn't write that much music. But it's all meticulously constructed and sounded beautiful. As do the works on this release. 

Clarinetist Thursten Jehanus give some thoughtful and expressive performances. Recommended.

Josef Labor: Quintet for Clarinet, Op. 11; Quintet in D; Clarinet Trios

Thorsten Johanns, clarinet; Juri Vallentin, oboe; Theo Plath, bassoon; Premysl Vojta, horn; Nina Karmon, violin; Andres Willwohl, viola; Alexander Hulshuff, cello; Oliver Triendl, piano

Capriccio C5473, 2 CD Set

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Elsner, Krogulski, Dobryzynski - the Foundations of Polish Classical Music

This release features the music of Józef Elsner and two of his students (but not his most famous one, Chopin). Elsner was a Polish composer and teacher. During his lifetime he produced a great deal of music. Works that greatly influenced the course of Polish classical music. 

Józef Władysław Krogulski showed great promise while studying with Elsner. His early death at age 28 prevented that promise from being fully realized. 

Ignacy Feliks Dobrzynski did live long enough to fulfill his. But circumstances thwarted his success. The unstable political situation of 1800s Poland made it difficult to mount performances. 

These three provide the foundation Polish composers built upon later in the century. And their music is enlightening. 

Elsner's Septet in D major was composed in 1838. Elsner had spent time in Vienna. This work seems to have much in common with Mendelssohn's music. It's well-constructed with a transparent texture. Melodies are well-defined and the work flows effortlessly from start to finish. 

The Octet in D minor, Op. 6 of Krogulski is a very different work. His harmonic language is much more advanced. At times it seems to anticipate Wagner's.

Krogulski's String Sextet in E-flat major, Op. 39 was composed in 1834. It's a charming work. His model seems to have been Haydn. The construction is meticulous, with creative melodies woven throughout.

The artists performing here do this music a great service. These are live recordings. I think the music benefits from the energy of playing together for an audience. The heritage of Polish classical music has yet to be completely explored. This release only hints at the treasures that await.

Józef Elsner: Septet in D Major for flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, double bass, and piano
Józef Władysław Krogulski: Octet in D Minor, Op. 6 for flute, clarinet, two violins, viola, cello, double bass, and piano
Ignacy Feliks Dobrzynski: String Sextet in E-flat Major, Op. 39 for two violins, viola, two cellos, and double bass

Zofia Neugebaurer, flute; Andrian Janda, clarinet; Maria Machowska, Mamil Staniczek, violins; Magdalena Bojanowicz, Agata Dobrzanka, cellos; Tomasz Januchta, contrabass
DUX 1822

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Radu Paladi Concerti Provide Fine Introduction

Radu Paladi was one of the most important composers in 20th Century Romania. He taught at the Caragiale National University of Theatre and Film in Bucharest. He wrote music for both stage and screen. 

Paladi was a founding member of the Association of Romanian Composers and Musicologists. He was the artistic director of the Philharmonic Orchestra in Botosani. He judged many of the country's music contests.

This release should help spread Paladi's reputation beyond the Romanian borders. The Symphonic Suite "The Little Magic Flute" is a showcase for his talent at orchestration. 

Paladi's musical language is somewhat conservative. But it's infused with the native music of Romania, which gives it a fresh and interesting sound.

The Piano Concerto in C major was composed in 1989. There's not a hint of any of the musical trends of that era. Rather, Paladi continues on his own path -- tonal music with Romanian folk elements. Oliver Triendl delivers an excellent performance.  He plays with a lightness and dexterity that set just the right tone. 

Paladi composed his Violin Concerto in E minor four years before his death at age 84. As with the other two works, this concerto has some infectious rhythms. But unlike the other two, Paladi pushes tonality to its limits. There are some highly chromatic sections that obscure the tonal center.

Nina Karmon delivers a thoughtful performance. Her expressive phrasing shows she understands the underlying structure of the music. 

The Württembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen is directed by Eugene Tzigane. The ensemble has a smooth, homogeneous sound.  They provide excellent support for the soloists. 

This release was my introduction to the music of Radu Paladi. Now I want to hear more.  

Radu Paladi: Piano Concerto
Violin Concerto; Symphonic Suite "Das Zauberflötchen"
Oliver Triendl, piano; Nina Karmon, violin
Württembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen; Eugene Tzigane, conductor
Capriccio C5465

Friday, January 06, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #Classical1923 Week 1

New year, new month, new theme. The Classics a Day team decided to look back 100 years. For the month of January, the challenge is to post classical works associated with 1923. They can be pieces composed in that year, premiered in that year, or received their first recording in that year. 

1923 was a pivotal year in classical music. As I soon discovered when I began my research. Here are my posts for the first week of #Classical1923.

01/02/23 Gerald Finzi: A Severn Rhapsody, Op 3

Finzi completed this work in 1923. One critic called it "a picturesque and imaginative composition." I don't disagree.

01/03/23 Sergei Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 16

Prokofiev completed his second piano concerto in 1912. But the score was lost in a fire. In 1923, he reconstructed the work but admitted it was almost completely rewritten.

01/04/23 Hans Pfitzner: Concerto for Violin in B minor, Op. 34

Pfitzner dedicated this concerto to Alma Moodie. She premiered it the following year with Pfitzner conducting. For a while, it was considered the most important addition to the violin repertoire since Bruch's First Concerto.

01/05/23 Germaine Tailleferre: Piano Concerto No. 1

In 1923 Tailleferre spent a lot of time with Maurice Ravel. And it was time well-spent. She wrote this concerto, Le marchand d'oiseaux Ballet for orchestra, and her Ballade for piano and orchestra.

01/06/23 Henry Cowell: Aeolian Harp

This piece is played with what Cowell called a "string piano." That is, the performer reaches inside a piano and strums the strings directly with one hand. The other presses down the keys, in essence, muting the sound of select strings.

Thursday, January 05, 2023

Bruno Walter Chamber Works Show Skill

Bruno Walter is best remembered as one of the greatest conductors of the 20th Century. But that wasn't the plan. When he started out, Walter wanted to emulate his mentor and friend, Gustov Mahler. That is, be a composer who also conducted.

Most of Walter's compositions come from early in his career. In time his conducting overshadowed composing.

The two works on this release are from the early 1900s. Walter was in his late thirties, and these works reflect his maturity. 

The String Quartet in D major of 1903 was only performed once. According to Walter, the final two movements alienated the audience. I think I understand why. 

The first two movements are finely crafted, if somewhat conservative. Brahms comes to mind. The third movement takes us into the realm of exotic harmonies. The same realm that Mahler and Schoenberg were also exploring. The finale is also somewhat thorny, with small blocks of sound tossed about the quartet.

The Piano Quintet in F-sharp major was written two years after the quartet. The harmonies here are still adventuresome, but not as jarring as the quartet's.  Plus Walter seems to have looked back as well as forward. The sweeping melodies reminded me of Schumann in a modern setting.

The Aron Quartet has a good ensemble blend. Their playing has plenty of energy. Yet the quartet can deliver quiet themes with delicate beauty. 

As a conductor, Bruno Walter did a great service to classical music. Based on these works, I wonder how much greater his contribution would have been had he continued to compose.

Bruno Walter: String Quartet; Piano Quintet
Aron Quartett; Massimo Giuseppe Bianchi, piano

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

Robert Fürstenthal Music Works on Its Own Terms

In many ways, Robert Fürstenthal's story isn't an unusual one. He was one of several up-and-coming composers in 1930s Austria. When the Nazis took over the country, his career was derailed, and he was forced to flee. 

Like many other musicians, he emigrated to America. But that's where the story takes a different turn. Fürstenthal started a new career in his new country and left music behind. Until he reconnected with his first love in 1973.

Fürstenthal returned to composition, picking up where he had left off in 1939. And he continued writing in the Post-Romantic style of prewar Vienna.

This release presents one of his choral works and two for piano. The Piano Sonata in F major was written in 1990, but it could have been 1930. To me the work has a Schumannesque quality to it, but with far more adventuresome harmonies. 

His Sonata for Piano Four Hands is a four-minute work that is densely packed. Fürstenthal uses the sonata form as a framework for several near-related motives. 

The centerpiece is Der Sonnengesang des Heiligen Franz von Assisi. This is a -- for Fürstenthal -- a large-scale work. It features a string quartet, piano, four vocalists, plus a choir. The work is an interesting mix of cantata traditions and fin de siècle  Post-Romanticism.

It's an interesting work, with beautifully-wrought choruses. The choir, as recorded, sounded a little thin to my ears. I think a fuller sound would have added tremendously to the appeal of this music.

Still, though, these are works worth hearing. There's an honesty to Fürstenthal's compositions I really appreciate. He wasn't writing for the market, audiences, critics, or fellow academics. He was simply writing to express the music in his heart. And that comes through in just about every passage.

Robert Fürstenthal: Complete Choral Music, Volume One
Philippa Hyde, soprano; Emma Roberts, alto; Rory Carver, tenor; Felix Kemp, bass
Ian Buckle, Richard Casey, piano
Borealis; Skipton Camerata; Stephen Muir, conductor
Toccata Classics

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre: The Violin Sonatas of 1707

As I continue exploring the rich legacy of female composers, I see a pattern emerge. No matter how talented a woman is, her reputation -- and her music -- evaporates after her death. Unlike male composers, there doesn't seem to be a cadre of admirers and musicians to keep the legacy alive. 

That's why I'm always glad to see a new recording that adds to our understanding of these remarkable women. And hopefully, adds to the repertoire at the same time. 

Élisabeth Claude Jacquet de La Guerre was a favorite of Louis XIV, and famous in Parisian circles. She was well-respected both as a harpsichordist and a composer. Contemporary musicologist Titon du Tillet ranked her equal to Marin Marais, and second only to Jean-Baptiste Lully.

She published several volumes of music, many with ground-breaking innovations. Her 1707 collection, "Pièces de Clavecin qui peuvent se jouer sur le Violon," receives its world recording premiere.

The sonatas aren't for violin with harpsichord accompaniment. Rather, they present the two instruments as equal partners. Sometimes the harpsichord takes the lead. And sometimes the viola da gamba pairs with the violin.  

The three musicians performing work well together. Dana Maiben plays with a strong, clear tone. Her violin has a tightly focused sound that balances nicely with the other instruments. 

Lisa Goode Crawford plays the harpsichord with pleasing precision. As does Sarah Cunningham, viola da gamba. Often the bass notes of the two instruments are perfectly aligned. They're often difficult to distinguish separately.

De La Guerre was an innovative composer who knew how to write a melody. As this release amply shows. Time to restore her to the pantheon of French composers -- where her contemporaries placed her.

Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre: The Violin Sonatas of 1707
Dana Maiben, violin; Sarah Cunningham, viola da gamba; Lisa Goode Crawford, harpsichord
Centaur CRC 3988